How I address my downtrodden spirit may well impact the longevity of my ministry.
Every minister struggles with seasons of discouragement and depression. Many godly servants of Christ’s church have exited ministry-stage-right as the result of an inability to deal with the valley moments of life.
Personally, I don’t recall struggling consistently with depression before I entered the ministry. The combination of sharing so intimately in people’s personal lives, stories, sins, successes, burdens, and blessings can wreak havoc. Going from the birth of a child in one hospital room to a dying child in another hospital room right after a phone call where a couple on the brink of divorce had to be calmed down and right before scheduling a lunch appointment with the Sunday School curriculum rep all just to go home to play catch at the park with my child while mindful of people watching me who know I am a pastor in their community, takes its emotional toll. This doesn’t begin to address the impact of spiritual warfare.
How should church leaders respond when feeling down, discouraged, brokenhearted, depressed, or oppressed?
Well, I can’t say how you should respond, since each person is different, but if I may, I’d like to share how I respond to these seasons in my ministry experiences.
Personally, I experience one to three seasons of discouragement or depression a year. When they hit, I steadily walk through a five-point checklist.
1. Is there any unrepentant sin in my life?
Every believer should be struggling and battling against sin. This question is not about those sins that I’m regularly taking before the Lord and dealing with biblically already; rather, this question is designed to challenge me to an honest assessment as to whether there is any hidden, persistent, or unrepentant sin in my life. If any sin is there, in the darkness of my life, I must confess that sin to God and others around me who would need to know. I must expose the sin and seek appropriate accountability.
2. How am I doing with my diet, exercise, and sleep?
Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 17-19 provides an interesting perspective on how our diet, exercise, and sleep can impact our spiritual and emotional states. In 1 Kings 19:4, after a grueling season of ministry with little rest and long periods of running (literally), Elijah breaks emotionally, goes out into the wilderness under a tree, and prays a suicidal prayer.
Wisdom compels me to understanding the multifaceted nature of life and recognize that my physical life impacts my spiritual life and vice versa.
Diet: Am I maintaining a reasonably healthy diet? Am I consuming plenty of water and avoiding excessive soda and caffeine intake?
Exercise: Am I getting sufficient exercise? For me, that is exercising moderately two or three times per week.
Sleep: Am I getting sufficient sleep? For me, sufficient sleep is between six to nine hours in a given night. If I am sleeping more than nine hours or am consistently getting less than six, it seems to perpetuate my depression.
3. Am I maintaining the spiritual disciplines of Bible Intake and Prayer?
In other words, how is my time with the Lord? It doesn’t have to be spectacular, but it should be consistent. I don’t have to “feel” great about it or during it, but should be able to focus at the feet of the Lord while speaking and listening to him.
4. Do I need to call on my effective prayer supporters?
Historically, I have three people who when they pray for me something unique happens. I can literally feel their prayers as odd as that sounds. They seem to have an amazing connection with God; whereby, he has extraordinary favor on their prayers.
So, after a period of time, specifically when I sense spiritual warfare is taking place, I will call or email these three faithful friends. I will walk through the first three questions listed above and be completely transparent with them concerning what’s happening.
5. When was the last time I had a physical?
Again, our spiritual and physical lives are connected. If these feelings persist, it could be the result of something biological. Low testosterone, blood sugar fluctuations, low iron, weight gain, etc. can all greatly impact my feelings, energy, attitude, sex drive, and more. This step is especially important to those who are 40 and older or overweight. Sorry.
Do these five questions provide me with a cure-all? No, but I’ve found they often speed my emotional recovery and practically help me maintain my focus on Christ even in the midst of my desert experiences.